Several states have begun taking steps to better protect teenagers who end up in prostitution rings, treating the teen prostitutes not as criminals, but as victims of abuse, and charging their pimps with human trafficking.
Prosecutor Nancy O'Malley, who wrote California's sexually exploited minors law, tells Christina Hoag of the Associated Press: "This is an institutional shift. It's about getting people to shift their attention and judgment from the minor and seeing what's beyond this criminal behavior." Several other states, including New York, are following suit, offering rehabilitation programs rather than jail time for children caught up in the sex trade.
Sadly, Hoag notes, pimps are becoming more sophisticated, using the internet to attempt to avoid the authorities, and even when teen prostitutes DO look for help, there aren't many programs well-funded enough to truly help them. Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night, a rehabilitation program that has four centers across the country, often sees most of these girls sent to one of her programs, as there aren't any other resources available to these young women anywhere else. As she tells Hoag, "Programs that build the girls' self-esteem, push them to finish high school and heal their trauma are ideal, but funding is always short for a cause that generally doesn't engender public sympathy." Children Of The Night relies on 2 million dollars a year in private donations to keep running.
"Amanda" a 15 year old who is currently going through the Children of the Night program after being abused at 8, selling crack at 12, and starting prostitution at 14 (during which she was beaten on a weekly basis by her pimp), has high praise for the program: ""All my life my plate was like overfilled with problems. I always asked God to give me something good, and this is it." One hopes that lawmakers consider better funding for such programs, to ensure that other young girls will find the same sense of hope and a chance at a better life.